Tag Archives: Off-camera

On-camera flash… advice for taming the beast

Taming on-camera flash

• Taming on-camera flash •
Left: harsh light and highlights are so unflattering!
Right: properly controlled you get proper skin tones and no highlights.
On camera flash can be a pretty tough nut to crack – learn how.
(Images taken from the video)

On-camera flash is pretty harsh…

In fact it’s often the source of ruined pictures from otherwise great dinner parties and family events. Dealing with with these little beasts takes a little work. You can make them do you bidding, you just need to know how.

A small powerful light source

The power of the little flash on your camera is misleading. For such a small light it puts out a lot of power. The learner is often caught off-guard. A great scene can be ruined by very unpleasant light, colour leached from faces, shiny reflections on faces and really hard-edged shadows. The whole thing is pretty ugly.

Here is some news. There are ways to control these little beasts and make them do your bidding.

Two of the most useful techniques for dealing with the problems are explained more fully in: Find out more about diffusing your on-camera flash. The other way is to help your flash work better in the room. Use the room itself as a way to bounce light around. Point your flash at a wall or ceiling so the light is reflected everywhere. It will make harsh flash into soft light – make it a more wrap-around light. This is always more flattering and shows the gentle curves of the face much better. It also means the light works its way around the back of the subject reducing harsh shadows cast onto the wall.

Practical use of the on-camera flash

For those quiet evenings where you are chatting with your friends and family here are some easy techniques. You can use your on-camera flash to good effect without the harsh shadows. You can escape the electric shock faces and startled expressions too. Have a look at the video and follow the sage advice of Mike Browne at a dinner party…

Using on-camera Flash Indoors – With Mike Browne

Mike Browne  External link - opens new tab/page

Using the proper tools is best

Let’s face it. On-camera flash is always going to be a bit difficult. As good as it looks in the video controlled results are always going to be difficult from such a little light source. Here is what Mike himself has to say about on-camera flash…

I’d suggest a speedlight is better because you can fit a diffuser and better still, turn the flash head in any direction and bounce the flash off a wall or ceiling.
Mike Browne  External link - opens new tab/page.

Have a look at some off-camera ideas. These are probably the most flexible options for moving your photography forward, especially for small intimate surroundings. Check out these options…

Off camera flash units

Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash Unit – a great branded flash for general use  External link - opens new tab/page

Nikon SB-600 Speedlight – a great quality mid-range Nikon flash unit  External link - opens new tab/page

Special pick…

This high quality own-brand flash unit performs like branded units but is much more affordable. The unit provides a range of functions as well as being compact, light and robust. Great value for your money. YN560 III 2.4Ghz Wireless Flash Speedlite Support RF-602/603 YN560-III For Canon Nikon Pentax Olympus  External link - opens new tab/page

All these units will fire as normal when mounted on the camera. They will require an off-camera flash cord or wireless radio triggers for off-camera flash units  External link - opens new tab/page to connect to the camera when shooting off-camera.

Comments, additions, amendments or ideas on this article? Contact Us
or why not leave a comment at the bottom of the page…

Like this article? Don’t miss the next — sign up for tips by email.


Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is managing editor of Photokonnexion.com with professional experience in photography, writing, image libraries, and computing. He is also an experienced, webmaster and a trained teacher. Damon runs regular training for digital photographers who are just starting out.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’
By Damon Guy :: Profile on Google+

Sidelight – How to capture great texture in your photographs

Rippled Sand • Sidelight creates a lovely texture

• Rippled Sand •
Beautiful soft sidelight from bottom left creates lovely shadows after each ripple. Had the shot been taken with flash from above, the ripples would have been near invisible.
Rippled sand by Seldom Scene Photography, on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

The capture of texture depends on the angle of light.

It is that simple. The lower you get your light to the side of your subject the more you will create shadows that stand out. Photographers have long recognised the benefit of long shadows for their definition in landscapes. Beside the great colours of sunset, the long shadows from sidelight provide character and definition to the landscape.

The same idea can be applied to the much smaller scale. Still life, studio set-ups and even drying paint can all be enhanced by sidelight. When working with smaller subjects, “get in tight and sidelight” is great advice.

Vintage Store Photo Challenge

This is the best video I have seen on working with smaller objects and side lighting. Gavin Hoey explains with an off-camera flash how to bring out texture and detail in still life photos. This is a very simple lesson. After seeing it you will want to explore side lighting further.

After the video there are some more resources on the subject…


Approaching sidelight with your images

In the video Gavin Hoey used a diffused speedlight, off-camera flash. In the post “Off-camera flash” you can find out all about what they are and the functions they provide.

If you want to improve your off-camera flash working with some sort of diffuser is a great idea. I have worked with a range of off-camera flash diffusers over the years and often been disappointed. I am really enthusiastic about the Rogue Flashbender range of diffusers. I use the Large Rogue Flashbender and the diffuser to go with it for work and my own projects. It is an exceptionally flexible piece of kit and occupies only a tiny space in your kitbag since it rolls up very tightly. The whole Rogue Flashbender range are great products and worth checking out.

One of the great tools I keep within reach when doing table top photography is the little LED light unit below. Designed for camping it has become a great light for my table top product work. It is small, adaptable and very cheap to run as it uses very little battery power.

I have two of these and place them on the table lying down or on end. The light itself is quite white so it will not give you colour casts. If the light is too harsh I just cover the LED panel with tracing paper or ordinary (white) toilet tissue. The tissue-light is gorgeous, soft and easy to use. These are excellent products and inexpensive to buy. They are probably the simplest way to set up a table top sidelight.

Working with people, stronger light gives you more control over freezing your subject. For portrait work a flash helps. To freeze a portrait for a sharp picture use a brighter light and a short exposure. A side-lit portrait is 100% better than a pop-up flash shot where the light is straight on. For this, the off-camera flash is the way to go. You have the flexibility to create a sidelight that creates shadows that define the face. Make the light as soft as possible so the shadows wrap around. Avoid hard or harsh shadow lines on faces. It is not flattering.

At the other end of the scale the low intensity light of the LED panels allows for long exposures when using static subjects. Use a longer shutter time if you want your subject to be lit more brightly. Of course to do that you will need a way of steadying your camera for long exposures. A tripod is probably best in this situation.

The way to go…

In the wilds, or doing table-top studies the best light comes in from a shallow angle as sidelight. It is the shadows that define objects and bring out strong textures. Look for side lighting where ever you can, and create it yourself if the natural light can’t do it for you.

find out more...Photokonnexion tips by email
If you enjoyed this article please sign up for our
daily email service.
                                                 Find out more

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Can you write? Of course you can!
Write for Photokonnexion...

We would love to have your articles or tips posted on our site.
Find out more…
Write for Photokonnexion.

Tips for improving your use of flash

Simple tips about flash help all aspects of your photography.

The use of flash is all about increasing the light intensity in the area where you are working. There are many ways that flash can be used. Here is a great round up of flash tips to get you started.

In Six tips for photographing silhouettes we talked about how to create a silhouette. One of the reasons for flash is to prevent a silhouette. Often when you have a bright background you want to light the foreground to prevent your subject being too dark. You can use your on-board flash, an external flash or studio lights to fill that foreground light and bring your subject up to a brightness level that makes them look natural and well lit.

One thing to remember is that your flash is adjustable. This is a fact that many people forget. Look in your camera or flash manual to see how to make the adjustment. Then make sure that you do not have too much power. Nearly always photographers have the flash too high. Very bright flash makes faces look washed out and tired. It will also cause nasty and distracting highlights. You can turn your flash off, down or sometimes up. It is certainly worth experimenting with it to see how much you can adjust it and what effects the adjustment has on your subject.

On-board flash and off-camera flash are two different things altogether. You can easily do some things with the off-camera flash that you can with you pop-up (on-board) unit. However, there are some things you should know about on-camera flash – it is pretty limiting.

The differences between types of flash, and many other useful tips, including more on the tips above, can be found in the video below. It explores quite a few aspects of flash and is a great background for you to get started.

Posted on YouTube by: http://www.steeletraining.com

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Some things you should know about on-camera flash

On-camera flash suffers with a number of problems

On-camera flash suffers with a number of problems. It is best to know what you can and cannot do.

On-camera flash can be harsh and unforgiving – use sparingly.

The flash that comes on-board of most cameras is small, tightly focused and very close to the optical axis of the camera. These things cause problems for your shots.

On-board flash problems with portraiture

The small size of the on-board flash makes it a source of hard light. While that may be fine for some shots, it creates hard, sharply defined shadows. These are particularly unflattering for faces which makes portrait photography difficult. The light from flashes is coloured to imitate the bright bluish light of a sunny day. That colour gives the face a harshly blue tinge – making a person look like they could do with a couple of good nights sleep! On-board flash is also directly in line with the optical axis of the camera, and it is close to the axis as well. Light that is straight-on like that also tends to flatten the face in the image. Worse still, it is in an ideal position to create red-eye. On-board flash is also quite strong when used close up. This tends to create ugly highlights on the face. These large white spots of light on the cheeks, possibly the chin, nose and forehead, are pretty distracting for the viewer.

All these problems add up to pretty unflattering results in portraiture.

On-board flash problems in the open

Happy snappers often don’t realise that they have 100% control over their on-board flash. In fact, most probably only ever use auto-settings. The result? The on-board flash will pop up whenever the camera thinks it is needed. A lot of the time it is not needed or in fact it is a nuisance.

While flash is quite strong close up (for portraits say), light falls off pretty rapidly. With light, as you double the distance the illumination reduces to one quarter of its intensity. The tiny on-board flash will therefore have a strong effect close up. In a large room, or a church for example, it will light everything within a few feet very brightly – then everything after that will be black or very dark. That’s because the light does not have much power after a short distance. So, using flash in a dark church for example will have irritatingly bright fittings and people close up, and you will see little else in the background. As an aside, you will also annoy the people nearby who are worshipping or looking around too.

In an open space on-board flash can be pretty bad news. What you tend to find is that in darker situations the flash will provide a perimeter of illumination very close to you. This will be a bright glow on the ground in front of you and some illumination of the trees and bushes (or buildings etc) around about. The rest will be black or very dark. In brighter situations, well suffice to say, you get the highlight issues again if there is any shiny surface nearby. Both these cases cause artificial light that spoils the shot.

In domestic rooms, smaller spaces and shadows on a brighter day, the on-board flash can be useful if carefully used. However, beware. Any flash in a shadowed place will blow the shadows back in an artificial way. So the charm of the shadowed area is lost where the flash fires. As a result of the bright foreground you also get a deepening of the shadows in the background. This amounts to a pretty contrasty scene. It can therefore look gloomy in your picture.

Some solutions

I don’t have a downer on flash. It’s just that on-board flash is very difficult to work with and it is placed in the worst possible place to generate a flash. Ideally I would advise you to buy an off-camera flash. Even moving the flash away from the camera by one arms length removes many of the problems mentioned. Setting the flash to one side, by only several feet, creates its own shadow texture in your shot. This removes much of the blow-out and shadow flattening effect you get when the flash is in-line with, and close to, the optical axis of your camera.

I know that many people will say they cannot afford to buy an off-camera flash. Well, maybe so – but some of the unbranded ones are really quite cheap. I have two unbranded off-camera flash units and they are excellent. You have to get used to manual adjustments (which you should be doing anyway), but they are just as effective as branded flash units costing up to ten times more. So, maybe you should be thinking about looking around. Here are some units which I have used. Buy one now and improve your flash photography straight away!

If you want to improve your use of on-board flash there are two things to can do to improve the situation…

Turn it off: This is an improvement because, for example, in a church situation you don’t want to create that deep black pit in the background. Many people don’t realise that you can turn off the flash. If you look in your manual it will tell you how. On many point-and-shoot cameras you can turn off the flash on the screen. In most DSLRs, its on the screen too. But it may be a button in its own right, or you can find it in the menus. However it is done, the on/off is easy. Then you can take the shot using one of the other settings, or your camera will calculate a longer exposure. The result will be less contrasts, shadows or black areas. If you find you get more camera shake or softness, use a tripod or rest your camera on something.

Reduce the power: It may seem odd to reduce the power to get a better shot, but you will gain a lot from controlling the light intensity. In portraiture you will reduce the highlights. Less power will also create less of a blue pallor on faces too. Oddly, a lower power shot will also light the background better. It is the contrast of foreground to background light that causes bright close things and black distance. If you lower the power the contrast will not be so steep. Your camera will choose settings (or you can) that will enable it to see into the background with less dark areas.

To reduce the power of your flash look in your manual. It will tell you how to do it. Most flash power settings are available in the menu or on the main control screen of the camera. Most of the time I use the bottom setting. On-board flash is so harsh that I find it is the light touch that is best.

There are two more things you can do. One is to use reflectors, or bounce to change your light in some rooms (See: Does Pop-Up Flash Ruin Your Shots?.

The other idea is to further diffuse your flash. A quick trick is to tape a piece of white tissue paper lightly in front off your flash lens. I leave a gap to allow air to circulate so it does not overheat. The tissue lowers the power and causes greater diffusion. You will have to experiment to see the effect on your camera. I use this to great effect on my little Canon G12.

One possible way to use on-board flash to good effect is as fill-in light. This is a useful way to use your on-board flash, and can be used in conjunction with other off-camera lights. However, it does require practice to get it right. It is almost always used with lower flash power levels too. So it is definitely worth learning how to reduce the flash power.

Black and white is fun – try monochrome

Reflection of a girl in a shop window

Reflection of a girl in a shop window. There is more to monochrome than black and white photography. Single colours are a great way to express yourself.

Give your shots a new dimension.

There is something exciting about black and white. The use of one tonal range gives a simplicity that is a new dimension. You can do the same working with one colour other than grey.

In “Don’t photograph in black and white” I said it is better to take a shot in colour with black and white processing in mind. Well, it need not be just black and white. Some photos work really well in other monochrome colour tones. There are several ways you can do it and I am going to set out some ideas for you to try.

Getting the shot

There are many ways you can get a monochrome shot in camera…

  • Find a monochrome subject. My shot above is an example. This girls face reflected off a shop window. The predominant cobalt blues in the shop display created a perfect monochrome reflection in blue. I fired off an opportune shot! So look for situations where you can pick up a monochrome appearance. Reflections are a great opportunity.
  • Filters. There are an amazing range of photographic filters on the market. There is a whole range of colours. Using these you can colour your image as you take it – strong filters will impart a monochrome overall. You will need to experiment however, filters change the nature of the light entering your camera. You might get some surprising results!
  • Gels. Photographic gels are coloured material that colour light. You can, if you stretch it tight, put thinner gels over the front of your lens. This will colour the light as it enters the camera. Try to make sure there are no wrinkles or you will get dark lines across your shot. Although, you might artfully arrange wrinkles to give your shot a unique texture as well as colour. If you use gels you might need some strong lights, hard light is best. Gels tend to be quite colour saturated. So they need the subject to be brightly lit so you see details. Its all part of the fun!
  • Coloured light. Using gels you can also light the scene with a strong colour. Deep red, blue or green gels make some really erie colours and impart some interesting shadows. If you use your gels in conjuction with strong house-lights the colour-cast will be enough to completely colour the shot as a monochrome. Moody and atmospheric shots are especially good with strong gels. They make for some great scenes. If you have an off-camera flash you will be able to try a wider range of shots with brighter results too. Just lightly tape the gel onto the lens of the flash so it shines through the gel when the flash goes off.
  • Shoot through glass. Shop windows, especially armoured glass often imparts a greenish tinge to everything you see through it. It also gives a sort of dreamy, almost watery feel to the shot. Try taping a small piece of glass like that to the front of your lens hood.
  • Colour ordinary glass. There are many types of colourant that will go on a small piece of glass. Various paints, makeup, inks, food colour… I am sure you can think of a few others too. The single colour will be imparted to the shot. Some of the things you put on will give an inconsistent coverage. More creative fun can be had by producing patterns on the glass with your colourant. Then you will be able to influence not only your monochrome shot, but also the texture of the exposure.
  • Processing. There are a whole range of ways you can get some shots to be post-processed in a monochrome. You could just have a go with your favorite image editor. Experimenting is a great way to learn. I will also be doing a future article on monochrome processing here.

I hope those ideas give you great creative thoughts. Activities like this are fun and great for extending your skills. Just make sure you keep exotic liquids, paint and chemicals off your lens. They may damage the coating on the glass.

Some quick tips for still life inspiration and shots

You can find some surprisingly artistic displays in shop windows.

You can find some surprisingly artistic displays in shop windows. It is easy to get some great ideas for still life work later. Or, you can just photograph them in the shop.
Click to view this image in full size.

Get some easy but creative still life shots

I love shop windows. I especially like those boutique type shops where the owner has a sense of art. Shop window displays are by nature well designed, artistic and attractive. Well, they are if the owners want to entice people into the shop. Here is an idea to help you out with your still life shots.

Still life inspiration

Window displays are usually simple and attractive. The shop owner doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on the display. They do want it to draw customers into the shop. Take advantage of this artful situation. Look at the the picture above. It’s a simple box constructed from rough wood, lined at the back with a scrap of net curtain. Wow. Effective. You could display all sorts of things in this. There are also dozens of ways to light it. Here is a simple and effective way to really emphasize your product, your still life, your collection… you name it. Great inspiration. So, take a walk up the high street and see what still life shots you can think of from peering into shops. (More after the jump…)

Display photography

The shot above, ‘Shoes in a box’, was actually taken in a shop window. I do quite a lot of these. The shots are easy to do. They give you great ideas too. More to the point, if you take them after dark they are usually under pretty good lighting too. One walk up the high street after dark about every month and you will come back with a crop of great still life photographs. Everyone will think you have great creative skills. In fact you are getting ideas from shops and getting some great practice.

Here are some points to help you and some things to consider…

  • Remember to be properly prepared for night photography.
  • Turn off auto-focus – focus manually. Auto-focus will focus on the window glass if reflections get in the way.
  • If you use a flash make sure that you know how to turn it’s power down. Shop window shots are quite close-up and flash is pretty intense. It is possible to overpower the shops’ display lights. This will seriously change the character of your shot.
  • Use a diffuser on a flash to make sure you don’t get hard light flashes off the shop window.
  • Reflections from street lamps on the glass? Hang your coat on a tripod to block the light beams or get your friend to hold the coat up.
  • Use off-camera flash. It is best when shooting through glass. You can angle the flash away from the axis-of-light to your camera. Camera mounted flash tends to give a strong flash-reflection right in front of you.
  • Shoot from the side (at an angle), not straight at the glass. You will be less likely to see your own reflections in your shot.
  • If you do this at night make sure you have a friend for safety and help.
  • Don’t look suspicious. If you work openly and tell people what you are doing if asked everyone will laugh and be on their way. I have done this for a number of years and never had an ‘incident’.
  • If you are accosted or you appear to have upset someone then stop what you are doing, apologise and move on.
  • No-one, including the police can make you delete a photograph. See: The Right to Take Photographs (UK relevant).

I have had some great fun and some great ideas with window-shooting over the years and you will too.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

Going Off-Camera with the Latest Flash…

The new innovative Canon flash - new dimensions...

The new innovative Canon flash - new dimensions in flash technology. Click to see the article on the Canon website.

Off-camera flash is one of the most liberating aspects of flash technology. The idea is to get your camera to capture light that is controlled by you. You set up the flash so you can design how viewer sees your shot. In recent years flash units attached to DSLRs have become very sophisticated. This latest release from Canon has a range of high quality control features and in-built radio technology.

Syl Arena is a well known author in the field of flash technologies. In this article he reviews the latest offering from Canon. It is a rounded and informed view.

Contribute A Definition?

Send us a definition of a photographic word or phrase...

Send us a definition for our list of photographic words and phrases. Simply write a clear definition and send it in. Include an original picture if you wish. Give us your name and a link to your website and we will credit your work.